How to Use Skype in the Classroom to Get Connected

Skype in the Classroom

When we think about ways to connect students globally and to think outside of traditional boundaries, I often think about the power of video conferencing. Microsoft has included a lot of opportunities for teachers to do just that with the education programs they have created for Skype in the Classroom.

At its core, the program allows teachers to register on a website that lets them connect with each other and arrange calls between their classes. However, there are often special events like the recent World Read Aloud day where classrooms can invite authors into the classroom via the Skype in the Classroom program. There was also the Just Say Hello program that partnered with O, The Oprah Magazine. Teachers can also take part in the Skype a Guest Speaker program where experts can brought to your classroom as part of a PBL unit or another program of study.

The following video on Skype in the Classroom is typical of the kind of benefits you get from programs like this. At one point the teachers says that for her, school has never been about happens in the four walls of the classroom, it is about how you can knock those walls down and connect outside of them. The reactions of the students that were involved in the call was priceless. There are numerous other examples in this video of the power of using a tool like this to connect students from around the world so take a look below.

An extension of this is the Skype Virtual Field Trip program. Teachers can browse and schedule a virtual field trip for their class in any number of different locations. This is an amazing opportunity for broadening the horizons of your students and can include different habitats, careers and countries so it has a lot of curricular ties. In the video below, students talked to a marine biologist who was in an underwater lab. These are experiences that you just can’t recreate by yourself so the power of doing that with technology is something that all teachers should give their students the opportunity to be a part of.

Of course, Mystery Skype is as popular as ever. It takes the power of a simple video conferencing call and gamifies it. Teachers can connect via the Skype education portal and play their classes against each other in a bid to try and guess the location of the other class. The video below explains what it is in more detail, but I especially like that the education team at Microsoft have even put together a free Mystery Skype curriculum for teachers. It is designed to help maximize the educational benefits and curricular connections of this fun, interactive way to connect classrooms.

Yet another Skype program that is potentially very powerful for schools to take advantage of is Skype Translator. It gives teachers the ability to connect with far more people than just English speaking classrooms, and that can be really valuable for building those cultural connections in the minds of our students.  I have yet to try it, but one of these days I am going to befriend a foreign language teacher to help me test it out and see how well it works. Either that, or I have to brush the dust off my high school French and German textbooks and recruit one of my co-workers, but that won’t be as much fun! 🙂

So, when teachers approach me with ideas about connecting classrooms on a global scale, Skype in the Classroom is inevitably one of the first places I send them. If nothing else, because it has such a low barrier of entry, especially now that you can join a Skype call with just a web browser, no account or additional software is required.

How to Skype Anyone With Just a Link

skype logo

Mystery Skype is a fun, engaging, and educational activity for students in the classroom, but it used to require both teachers to have a Skype account, and to have the Skype client installed on a Windows, Mac or mobile device. Recently, that changed because you can now join a Skype call with just a link – no account or desktop clients are required. All you need it is a browser. Here’s how it works.

  1. Open the Skype desktop client on your computer, (the person who is hosting the call needs to have a Skype account and the desktop client for Mac or PC. The guest does not).
  2. Press Ctrl + N (Windows), or Cmd + N (Mac), to begin a new conversation.
  3. Copy the link to the conversation and send it to the person you want to connect with. You can send it by email, with Facebook Messenger, via a direct message on Twitter, or with another service that both participants have access to.

skype join by link

When the person you want to connect with receives your link, and clicks on it, they will find that it opens a new tab in their default browser. If they have Skype installed, they will see a prompt to open the conversation in Skype, else the participant will join your call in Skype for Web as a guest user. (Mobile users need the Skype app to join a conversation link that is sent to them).

Once you are both connected, you can chat with the conversation box or conduct a live audio or video call, just like two registered Skype users would normally do. (Note that a browser plug-in needs to be installed for audio or video calls). The Skype for Web user does not get all the features that a free Skype account gets due to the current limitations of the web client, but they do get the facility to make free calls and connect with people anywhere in the world.

This method of connecting over Skype is great for classrooms who play Mystery Skype games because it removes one more technical hurdle and opens it up to many more users. For more information on Mystery Skype, as well as a full user guide with tips for success, please see the Free Mystery Skype Curriculum for Schools post that I wrote earlier this year.

How to Download, Listen & Subscribe to Podcasts

how to listen to podcasts

Do you listen to podcasts? A growing number of people do. According to a recent survey, 46 million Americans over the age of 12 have listened to a podcast in the last month. That’s 17% of the population, (aged 12 and over). Personally, I am not surprised. I love listening to podcasts. It is a great way to expand your knowledge of the world, grow your PLN, or just be entertained for a while. So, if you have never listened to a podcast before, keep reading and discover how you can get started today.

A podcast is like an internet radio (or TV) show. It is an episodic collection of audio (or video) files that you can subscribe to for free, and get new content delivered to to your device as soon as it is available. If you have ever subscribed to blogs in Feedly or Google Reader, it is much the same idea. In fact, they share a common technology – the RSS feed.

There are a number of different ways to access the podcasts that you are most interested in, but you will likely listen on either your computer or a mobile device. Here’s how to set up your podcasts on a computer or a mobile device.

How to Listen to Podcasts on a Computer

The largest library of podcasts is curated by Apple and can be found in iTunes. You can download iTunes for a Mac or a PC and use this software as a way to subscribe, listen and rate the shows that you want to hear. You can search for specific shows, or browse through the store by category, new and noteworthy, featured collections and more. When you find the podcast you want to listen to, you are only a few quick clicks away from subscribing.

The instructions for how to find and subscribe to podcasts are slightly different depending on whether you are using iTunes on a Mac or a PC, so here are a couple of links that include step-by-step instructions for each device.

itunes podcast store

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Padlet for iPad is Now Available!

padlet for ipad

The schools I work with use all kinds of different devices and different platforms with which to enhance teaching and learning in the classroom. There are very few tools that are used in all of these districts, but one that is popular no matter where I go is Padlet.com. Why? Because it is a free, cross-platform app that works very well regardless of the technology you use. It has always been an website that made sense for iPad schools, but the release of a dedicated iPad app means Padlet will work better than ever on your favorite tablet.

If you are a regular user of Padlet, (formerly known as Wallwisher), you will instantly be at home with the intuitive user interface on the iPad. Everything looks pretty much the same as the website version, but is more responsive due to the touch-optimized version that Padlet has created for the iPad. Simply tap the gear icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen to start setting up your first Padlet, or choose an existing Padlet from your dashboard if you have used Padlet in the past and already have a log in.

Padlet for iPad

Adding posts to a Padlet wall can be done by tapping the plus sign or by double tapping on the screen. The posts look just like the ones you get online with a title and a body for more text. You can add a link from the web to a website, photo, video, document, song or just about anything else. Alternatively, you can take a photo or video with the iPad, or choose a photo or video from the iPad’s camera roll. I don’t know if there is a limit to how long a recorded video can be, but the 60 second video I took worked just fine.

Because this is the iPad version, there are a number of gestures that are included to help you navigate your Padlet on a touchscreen. You tap a post to expand it, pinch to resize it, a long press and drag will move it, and double tapping any post lets you edit or delete it. Of course, some of these gestures only work if you have the correct permissions to edit and changes things on the Padlet board you are working on.

Sharing is handled a little differently on the iPad than it is on the web version, simply because you use a different menu, but you will largely have the same options. To share, tap the ubiquitous iOS share icon in the bottom right-hand corner, and you will see that there are a number of apps that you can open to share the link. However, on the bottom row, there are a number of additional options like view/copy link, generate embed code, export as an image, and export as a PDF. Perhaps most useful for the classroom, when your iPad is projected to a large screen, is the View QR Code option. This displays a large QR code that students could then scan with their iPads to visit your Padlet. If the QR code opens the link in Safari, students should see the option to open the Padlet app, (if installed), which will in turn open the board you linked to in the Padlet app.

Sharing a Padlet board on the iPad with a QR code

So, overall, there is a lot to like about the new Padlet app and it is definitely worthy of a place on your iPad if you do a lot of brainstorming or back channels in your classroom. It doesn’t really give you access to anything you couldn’t do before, but the interface is cleaner than a browser, and it works quickly and efficiently in the app. I haven’t used the app extensively yet, but it seems like it does everything that you would expect it to. Download Padlet for iPad here and feel free to share your thoughts on this app below.

Free Mystery Skype Curriculum for Schools

mystery skype curriculum

Do you use Mystery Skype in your classroom? If so, you are probably familiar with how it works, but if you are looking for some extra tips, or want to get some other teachers involved, you should check out the new Mystery Skype Curriculum that Microsoft has put together for teachers who are connecting their classrooms all around the world.

The curriculum is free for anyone who wants to use it, but you do need a Microsoft account in order to sign in and view the latest version. Microsoft accounts are free, and you may already have one if you have a Hotmail or Outlook.com email address. If you are on Office 365 school, there is also a OneNote Class Notebook set up and good to go. You can find that here.

The curriculum is in the form of a OneNote notebook. OneNote, if you don’t already know, is a free, cross-platform, note-taking tool that is part of the Microsoft Office suite. You can download your own copy of OneNote for free on almost any device you can think of by visiting onenote.com. You can also read more about OneNote on this blog.

skype globe

The notebook is divided up into five sections. Each one tells you more about the best ways that teachers can use Mystery Skype in the Classroom.

  1. Welcome: How to play, why you should play, how to get started, etc.
  2. Documenting Your Adventures: A section where you can record your questions, the questions of the other class, and job assignments for students.
  3. Teacher Resources: Assessment rubrics, a time zone converter, tips for a successful call, and more.
  4. Student Resources: Self-reflection rubrics, success criteria and a debrief sample.
  5. More About Skype: Additional resources about Skype.

I would absolutely encourage you to download OneNote and get your own editable version of the Mystery Skype curriculum, but if you want to check it out without logging in or downloading anything, you can access a view-only copy on the web right here.

Overall, the OneNote Mystery Skype Curriculum is a great resource for teachers that will save you time and make your Mystery Skype games more engaging and more authentic for your students. It is a great activity to do in the classroom and the new Skype for Web means you might not even need to download Skype for desktop. It also means you can even use Skype on Chromebooks or any other device you happen to be using that doesn’t have Skype for desktop installed! The web version is still in beta, but you can check it out here.

Nuzzel: The Social News Feed for Connected Educators

Nuzzel for education

I first learned about Nuzzel from Tony Vincent, and today I use it more than ever. What is it? Nuzzel is a way to see the most popular links and stories that are being shared by your PLN. It basically filters out the noise and lets you see what the people you follow are most interested in right now. Nuzzel is updated frequently, and is a very efficient way to aggregate the best of the web so you can stay current with the latest conversations. Nuzzel is available for free on iOS, Android, and the web. Here’s how it works:

1. Connect to the app with your Twitter and/or Facebook accounts. With your permission, Nuzzel will analyze your respective feeds and compile the most shared and talked about stories from the people you follow.

2. Along the top of your screen you see four tabs. The first is the default feed, “News from Your Friends“, which as mentioned above, is a list of stories that your friends on social media are sharing right now. The list is sorted by the number of shares, with the most popular stories at the top of the feed, and newer (or less popular) stories towards the bottom. You can click or tap on any of these stories to read them, and also share them to your favorite social network.

Nuzzel for iOS screenshot

3. Another interesting option is the “News from Friends of Friends” feed. As the title suggests, these are popular stories that are being shared not by people you follow, but by friends of the people you follow. This can give a very different feed, with different stories, but is often still very relevant to the kinds of things you are interested in. It can also be a great way to find new people to follow based on the kinds of stories that they are sharing.

Nuzzel friends of friends

4. The remaining tabs at the top point to News You May Have Missed and your Recently Read Stories. Both are useful features that help you get more out of this useful app, but personally, I don’t use these features nearly as often as I use the first two.

5. The last thing I am going to highlight is the column on the right-hand side of the screen – Your Friend’s Feeds. This lets you view the news feed of your social media friends who are also using Nuzzel. This is akin to browsing through their Twitter or Facebook feed, but it picks up the stories that were curated for them by Nuzzel based on who they follow. I find this a great way to find specific content based on the special interests of some of the people I follow. The screenshot below is a snapshot of Tony Vincent’s news feed!

Tony Vincent's Nuzzel feed

Nuzzel is great for lots of reasons. It helps you stay connected with the best of social media without the need to be “connected” all the time. It also filters out a lot of the noise that some people complain about when they are using social media networks. Lastly, Nuzzel is a great discovery tool that gives you lots of content that you can share with your own followers. So, if you haven’t tried Nuzzel before, I would definitely recommend checking it out.